Coping With Having a Family Member in Alcohol or Drug Rehab

Your Encouragement and Support Is Important

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Having any member of your family in rehab for drugs or alcohol means that you're inevitably facing and perhaps even struggling with a lot of concerns, questions and maybe some misconceptions about how professional treatment works.

Things to Keep in Mind When Your Loved One Is Getting Treatment for Addiction

The following may answer some of those questions.

They're in Good Hands

First, relax and take a deep breath. Your family member is not being held against his will, and he is not locked up. Apparently, he had a substance abuse problem and has decided to get professional help. If that is the case, he is exactly where he needs to be to get the help that he needs.

He is in the hands of a staff of professionals, including medical and nursing personnel, who have received specialized training and education to help people who have alcohol or drug problems. He is also surrounded by peers who are or have been in the same situation that your family member is in and will provide an additional support system for him while he begins recovery.

He will receive group therapy, individual counseling, medical care, and a balanced diet. In other words, your loved one is in the hands of exactly who he needs, to get the help he needs to address his substance abuse issues.

Don't Take It Personally

Your family member is in a medical facility. Due to confidentiality concerns and federal privacy laws, the staff of the facility is prohibited from giving you any information about his situation. Your loved one will have to tell you himself.

No, you cannot talk with him right now, but don't take it personally. In the early days of his rehab program, his contact with the outside world will be highly restricted. He won't be reading newspapers, listening to the radio or watching television, either.

This is necessary so that he can concentrate on getting and staying sober with as few distractions or outside influences as possible. In the early hours and days of his treatment, his entire focus needs to be on doing what he needs to do to maintain abstinence.

Your Involvement Can Be Helpful

A point will come in your loved one's rehab when you are asked to become involved. Most professional alcohol and drug rehab programs include the family of the patient in his recovery process because research has shown that it reduces the risk of relapse.

Usually, during the first month of his rehab, you will be invited to the treatment facility for a "Family Psychoeducational Workshop," or family day. During this time, you will be able to express your concerns, questions, experiences, and feelings related to your addicted family member.

The Benefits of Family Involvement

Participation in the family workshop is beneficial in several ways:

  • It allows the rehab counselors to gain input from the family, observe how the family interacts and learn more about family dynamics.
  • It can encourage your loved one to continue with his treatment program knowing the family supports him.
  • It offers your family member an opportunity to learn how the entire family has been affected by his addiction.

What You Can Expect to Learn in Family Workshops

The primary purpose of involving you in the workshop is to provide you with information about the dynamics of alcoholism and addiction, and how family members can be affected by the substance abuse of others. The goal is to lessen the family's burden, increase helpful behaviors, and decrease any unhelpful behaviors.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the following topics are commonly addressed during the family workshop:

  • An overview of substance abuse and dependence, including prevalence, symptoms, causes, and basic concepts.
  • Effects of substance use disorders on the individual, family system, and individual family members, including children.
  • Overview of recovery issues for the affected person (physical, psychological or emotional, social, family, spiritual and other) and how to measure outcomes.
  • How the family can help, including enabling behaviors for the family to avoid and behaviors that support the addicted family member's recovery.
  • How a family member can heal from the adverse effects of involvement in a close relationship with an alcoholic or addict.
  • Self-help programs for family members and how they can help.
  • Common warning signs of relapse, the importance of relapse prevention planning, how the family can be involved, and how to deal with an actual relapse.

Family Workshop Is Not Therapy

Although there are many benefits to attending a family educational workshop while your family member is in rehab, those sessions are not therapy. Many times these workshops will bring out strong feelings among family members, and they can become emotional. But from the treatment center's point of view, these sessions focus on support and education, not therapy.

The rehab program's purpose is helping the addicted family member. If you feel that you or other family members have been psychologically or emotionally affected by your loved one's alcoholism or addiction, you will need to seek additional help on your own.

Consider Seeking Help for Yourself

You can seek professional marriage counseling, family counseling or individual therapy for yourself. For further support, you can participate in mutual support groups, such as Al-Anon or Naranon, and your children can participate in Alateen. Many family members of alcoholics and addicts have found that joining an Al-Anon Family Group can be a positive, life-changing experience.

You can also begin to educate yourself about alcoholism and addiction and how it can affect every member of the family. The more you know about the dynamics of a family affected by addiction, the more you will be able to offer your addicted family member understanding and encouragement.

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